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Would it be appropriate to refer to women as 'gentlewomen' instead of 'ladies,' when one uses the term 'gentlemen', in order to parallel or match the terms appropriately?

May I use the term 'gentlewomen' instead of 'ladies,' where 'gentlemen'is being used to refer to the men?

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  • If you wish to discuss behaviour, please go to meta.english.stackexchange.com. It is not appropriate (within the guidelines of this site) to add chat/discussion to a question.
    – AndyT
    May 22, 2017 at 8:43
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    The short answer is you can do whatever you like, the hard part is getting other people to agree with you. Here, then, what is your question? Can you say "gentleladies* instead of women? Sure! And you don't even need to go into all your motivations as you do here. Feel free. Will other people accept your usage? Who knows? That's entirely subjective, we can't answer that here. Can you force other people to accept your usage? The battlefield of English history is riddled with the skulls of such diktats, but hey, try your luck. All we can answer here is do people use that word? Mostly no.
    – Dan Bron
    May 22, 2017 at 11:23
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    "Gentlewomen" is not the alternately-gendered version of "gentlemen". While they're obviously similarly constructed, they carry much different historical baggage.
    – Hot Licks
    May 22, 2017 at 11:36
  • Have you looked up the term in a dictionary? Mine clearly labels gentlewoman as archaic, which means it's not in current use. Looking at the definition, you will see it is not the "women version" of the sense that you would be using gentleman in.
    – Laurel
    May 22, 2017 at 15:50
  • @ab2 I think "gentlewoman" is used in congress more than "gentlelady". Also the New York Times uses it in this headline: nytimes.com/2000/12/31/opinion/… referring to senator-elect Clinton.
    – DavePhD
    May 22, 2017 at 18:07

3 Answers 3

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"Gentlewoman" is constantly being used in the US House of Representatives.

For example:

The gentlewoman is recognized for 5 minutes.

...

Will the gentlewoman yield?

...

I appreciate the gentlewoman yielding.

...

I yield 2 minutes to the gentlewoman from Arizona

Congresswomen should be addressed as "gentlewoman" or "gentlelady", with "gentlewoman" being somewhat more common currently.

In fact, the House rules specifically state:

If a Member would like to ask a question of another Member who is speaking or make a comment, he or she should address the Chair and say, “Mr. Chairman (or Madam Chairman), will the gentleman (or gentlewoman) from (STATE) yield to me?”
...
A point of order may be made by a Member “demanding that the gentleman’s (or gentlewoman’s) words be taken down.”
...
Forms of Address : Members should not address their colleagues by their first name on the House Floor. They should be addressed as the gentleman or gentlewoman from (State).
...

"Gentlewoman" is also used in state legislatures.

For example, from the Maine Legislative Record - House:

The Chair recognizes the gentlewoman from Waterville, Mrs. Kany

...

First I would like to compliment the gentlewoman from Waterville on her fine presentation

...

The gentlewoman from Waterville, Mrs. Kany, very graciously gave me a copy of the Indian Tribal Treaties this morning, and I don't see of any treaty violations.

Other than to address a congresswoman, it is rare to hear the term.

A physics professor, Luis Lehner, at Louisiana State University, uses the term as you are suggesting on his faculty website:

Anyone can get a Univ Degree. It takes work/study for a few years and one ends up with a degree forever. To be a gentleman (gentlewoman) one must work at it every single day

although he is originally from Argentina.

Overall, you could use "gentlewoman" as you are saying. It will sound like you are trying to promote gender equality.

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  • Can you give a broader explanation of the uses in other contexts? What is the prevalence in these different contexts?
    – Mitch
    May 22, 2017 at 19:54
  • Wow! Who would have known? Thank you for contributing this. May 23, 2017 at 3:06
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    Really good answer that supports OP's basic premise by showing the word 'gentlewoman' being used in a specialised but real (rather than OP's hypothetical) context! 3 cheers and 1 upvote. May 23, 2017 at 11:26
  • @Mitch see if this is better now
    – DavePhD
    May 23, 2017 at 12:07
  • @DavePhD Yes, thanks for addressing outside of this particular context.
    – Mitch
    May 23, 2017 at 13:13
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No, it would not be appropriate to use 'gentlewoman' as a parallel to 'gentleman'. The term itself is very rare and then only used in very, very specific circumstances.

If you used it, it would sound very strange, archaic, or like you are attempting to make a feminist or anti-feminist point that, despite the objective logical substitution, just doesn't make sense for either sides.

What you should use is the set phrase 'ladies and gentlemen' - there is no problem with that. There are sometimes difficulties with using 'ladies' or 'lady' alone, but that is another longer question entirely to address all those contexts.

But for this question, the answer is easy. You don't want to use the word 'gentlewoman' in almost all circumstances.

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As indicated in the comments, you can really use whatever term you want as long as people understand what you're saying.

But having said that, I would note that the word "gentlewoman" by dictionary definition does not necessarily mean the same meaning as "lady" or "gentleman."

From Oxford English Dictionary:

gentlewoman:

A woman of good birth or breeding.

Gentleman, on the other hand, has historically held a similar meaning involving good birth or breeding, but this is listed as "chiefly historical." More commonly, gentleman refers to being polite or chivalrous.

gentleman:

A man in whom gentle birth is accompanied by appropriate qualities and behaviour; hence, in general, a man of chivalrous instincts and fine feelings.

lady:

Originally: a woman of superior rank or standing in society; a woman whose rank or office is indicated by the title ‘Lady’. In later use more generally: a woman.

You're free to use these and other terms as you see fit and if you believe they will be understood, but it's always wise to consider the definitions of these words and the historical context in which people might interpret them so that you can most effectively express the meaning you intend.

In other words, most women would probably take no offense to being called a "gentlewoman," but it's worth considering that if someone looked it up in a dictionary, they might interpret it to mean a woman of fine birth or breeding.

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  • You are very right to say that 'gentlewoman' does not correspond to 'gentleman' in the usage of the twin terms 'ladies and gentlemen' -- the meaning of gentlewoman is specifically 'aristocratic woman' and it is not commonly used in place of 'lady' except in the parliamentary examples so well cited by DavePhD which possibly perpetuate a traditional / archaic linguistic convention. May 23, 2017 at 11:32
  • Too many redundancies! Please delete my question and please delete my account!
    – user237224
    Sep 28, 2018 at 17:58

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